Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Hazard Based Planning


Guideline for the Development of a Municipal Forest Fire Emergency Plan


The purpose of this guideline is to assist municipalities in developing a Forest Fire Emergency Plan (the Plan). Forest fires can pose a significant threat to public safety, health, the environment, property, and the economy. The impact of forest fires may be localized or widespread. The development and implementation of a forest fire plan is voluntary since it exceeds the requirements of the current legislated program. While municipalities currently have emergency response plans that are designed to address all hazards, recommended practices suggest that risk-based emergency management programs are more robust.

It is strongly recommended that the forest fire emergency plan be developed in collaboration with a representative from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) Fire Program.

Aim and Scope

The aim of this Plan is to allow for a coordinated initial tactical response by a municipality and its partners to an emergency arising from a forest fire (e.g. dealing with smoke, structural and infrastructure protection, etc.). The scope of this plan is to identify and detail lead agencies in the municipal response to forest fires; their roles and responsibilities, human and other resource requirements, emergency information needs, and financial and legal considerations.

Authority and Maintenance

[Identify the authority this plan falls under (e.g. by-law)]

[Discuss the review and revision cycle of the plan, who is responsible for it, and how often the task will need to be carried out. It is recommended that this be done annually or after an event related to the hazard (i.e. after an exercise, after an actual emergency)]

Example: This plan is published as Annex____ to the ____________Emergency Response Plan as authorized by By-law _____; and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, RSO 1990. The custodian of this plan shall be the _____________, who is responsible for the annual review, revision, and testing of this plan.”

Description of Hazard and Risk

The advice of a representative from the MNR Fire Program will be invaluable in determining the threat and risk to the municipality from forest fires. The characteristics of hazard and risk should be reviewed regularly (i.e. annually or if significant changes occur) to ensure that changes in fire occurrences (i.e. whether the numbers of fires are increasing or decreasing, locations of fires, size of fires, responsible groups, etc.) and actions taken to address the risk (prevention, litigation, etc.) are incorporated. It is also important to consider any significant changes in land use, which may affect the hazard and risk due to forest fires.

Characteristics of Hazard

A forest fire hazard is the threat posed by natural fuels in forested areas within and adjacent to a municipality and can be worsened by human activity (land clearing, forest or industrial operations) with regards to the accumulation of slash (coarse and fine woody debris generated during logging operations or through wind, snow or other natural forest disturbances) or other human-made flammable materials. The level of threat can vary, dependent on the composition and health of the forest, time of year, weather (moist or dry/drought conditions) and available sources of ignition. Forest fires removed from a municipality may also pose a threat due to smoke conditions and/or damage to critical infrastructure such as power lines.

Broadleaf tree species are less susceptible to fire than conifers because they generally contain more moisture in the leaves and less flammable resins; however, under dry to drought-like conditions even these types of forest can be extremely flammable. Healthy forests are more resistant to fire than areas that have a large number of dead trees, which burn readily due to a lack of moisture. Forest fires can be ignited by nature, through lightning, or by human sources. A growth in population and industrial activity in and around forested areas may increase the threat of forest fires.

Fires in conifers can sometimes jump from crown to crown very quickly, far outpacing a ground fire and adding to the urgency of the situation. Fires can also occur at interfaces between forest and agricultural land – often starting as grass fires and spreading to the forest, or vice versa. Ignition of wooded areas and grasslands from wind dispersed burning embers can occur kilometres ahead of the fire and smoke generated from fires contribute to the complexity of the emergency.

Depending on the amount of forest in and around a municipality, the intensity of the fire and the prevailing winds, a forest fire could impact a portion or all of a community. Smoke from even a small fire could affect vulnerable populations. The Plan should include a map of the forested areas in and around the municipality. The MNR may be able to help classify the relative threat posed by different forested areas. The lead time a municipality has to prepare for a forest fire can vary from almost zero if the fire starts within a built up area, to hours or days if it ignites kilometres away and grows to impose a threat.

Characteristics of Risk

A forest fire may begin inside or outside the boundary of a municipality with differing legal and cost recovery implications. A municipality may be threatened by smoke from distant forest fires or by flames as the fire gets closer.

Refer to the municipal Community Risk Profile to determine the risk that a forest fire hazard poses to the municipality. Risk has two components: probability and consequences. The risk profile can be used to help quantify the likelihood of a forest fire impacting the community based on past history. Consequences can vary considerably, depending on the size and location of the forest fire. The risk profile should broadly describe consequences.

Across the Province the forest fire season varies in timing and duration. The author of the Plan may work with MNR to determine the normal forest fire season for the municipality. It should be remembered that spring and fall grass fires could pose many of the same threats as forest fires. The population that may be impacted may be a mix of permanent and seasonal residents and commercial and industrial businesses. The Plan should quantify the number of people that may be affected by the seasonal threat of a forest fire. Consideration should be given to businesses that rely on a supply of fresh outside air (e.g. mining operations).

The critical infrastructure of a municipality may be impacted by a forest fire. The Plan should list critical infrastructure components that could be lost or disrupted in the short or long term by a forest fire. Preservation of critical infrastructure may help drive some of the fire suppression priorities.

The Plan should list what economic impacts a forest fire could have on the municipality. Could a major employer(s) be lost or put out of business for a lengthy period of time? Does the municipality rely on the forest for wood supply for industry?


Implementation of Plan

[Who has the authority to implement the plan (e.g. municipal emergency control group, lead agency)?]

[Who maintains the notification list of external partners?]

[Who notifies those who have responsibilities under this plan and how?]

The Plan must state who has the authority to initiate the notification process and implement the Plan. The authority may lie with key individuals, such as any member of the Municipal Emergency Control Group or a department head. The person responsible for maintaining the notification list for internal personnel and external partners should be clearly indicated. A clear and succinct notification process must show who is responsible for making the notification contacts and list the primary and secondary notification methods.

Functional Roles and Responsibilities

Municipalities should work with partners to determine functional roles and responsibilities. Departments and agencies that may be involved in a response include (but are not limited to) fire, police, emergency medical services, emergency social services, volunteer agencies, provincial ministries (e.g. Natural Resources), and industry representatives. The bullets below provide a sample of responsibilities that may need to be assigned:

  • Act as head of the Municipal Emergency Control Group
  • Declare an emergency and order a partial or total evacuation of the municipality
  • Liaise with MNR Incident Commander
  • Act as Duty Officer at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC)
  • Ensure rapid and accurate transmission of information to the Media in cooperation with the partners (e.g. Ontario Provincial Police, the MNR)
  • Gather, process and disseminate information from emergency services or agencies
  • Provide communications in support of emergency or disaster operations as required
  • Lead a partial or total evacuation of the community, at the direction of the Municipal Emergency Control Group
  • Control movement within the evacuated area
  • Provide security in and around the evacuated area
  • Provide barricades to close off access to evacuated areas
  • Arrange for the MNR to access fire hydrants, if municipal water is required for suppression or values protection by sprinklers
  • Provide water tankers to the MNR and the fire department, as another source of water
  • Arrange for transportation for evacuees who require assistance to evacuate
  • Liaise with the Incident Management Team
  • Provide initial forest fire suppression on forest fires that start within or near the municipality
  • Co-operate with the MNR on fire suppression and in providing requested resources
  • Provide assistance to the police in conducting an evacuation of the municipality
  • Arrange for shelter and/or housing of evacuees
  • Liaise with the municipality receiving evacuees
  • Provide advice and direction on air quality and the need to evacuate the vulnerable populations
  • Enact Mutual Aid plans
  • Rescue and firefighting services
  • Control panic in firefighting area
  • Establish routes for emergency vehicles
  • Notify hospitals of casualties, including the number and type
  • Establish traffic and crown control
  • Eliminate hazards from damaged utilities
  • Warning of spread of fire
  • Business continuity
  • Emergency lodging of pets/livestock

Every municipality in the “Fire Region”, as defined by the Forest Fires Prevention Act, is responsible for the suppression of grass, brush and forest fires within its limits (Section 21 of the Forest Fires Prevention Act). Under an Order in Council, the MNR has the responsibility for any provincial response to forest fires and each Fire District has a District Emergency Response Team available to help municipalities address such an event. Under the Forest Fires Prevention Act, the MNR Fire Program has the responsibility for forest fire management on Crown Land in Ontario. Additionally, the MNR may suppress forest fires in municipal areas, if the local fire department is not able to respond due to the location or size of the fire.

Many municipalities have agreements with the MNR for suppression of forest fires. The agreements set rates for suppression services and an annual fee called a Comprehensive Protection Charge (CPC). The CPC is based on land ownership (private or crown) and which partner looks after more of the other partner’s area of responsibility. In some cases the MNR pays the Municipality and in others the Municipality pays the MNR. In the absence of an agreement, the MNR will charge full cost recovery rates for its forest fire response services. The suppression costs for air and ground attacks on forest fires can escalate quickly and a municipality will be responsible for their payment, whether or not an emergency is declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA).

Therefore, the lead agency for forest fire suppression will either be the MNR or the municipality, and the lead agency may change over the duration of the emergency. Many fire situations begin with an Inter-Agency response where both the Municipal Fire Service and the MNR work together to bring the fire under control. Factors such as fire location, fire behaviour, resource availability, duration of the event, and size will determine who takes the lead. The municipality will be the lead for the municipal emergency response (e.g. evacuation) with the MNR providing support if requested.

The MNR manages large and dangerous forest fires with an Incident Management Team (IMT) drawn from anywhere in the Province or across North America. The IMT and suppression and support staff are usually based near the forest fire, often far away from a municipality. However, they could be located in a municipality with staff focusing on values protection and other fire management priorities within the municipality with regards to the incident.

Specific responsibilities the MNR may be assigned include:

  • Determining the location of an Incident Command Post, which could be for the MNR alone or developed as an Interagency Command Post depending on the situation
  • Providing forest fire suppression
  • Protecting values on a priority basis
  • Liaising with the District Emergency Response Team and the Municipal Emergency Control Group
  • Participating in and/or presenting information and updates at Town Hall meetings as necessary

Specific arrangements will need to be made in those areas not included in the MNR’s fire protection area (for inhabited areas this applies to much of southern Ontario). Municipalities in this circumstance need to discuss the MNR’s role, if any, in fires.

Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place

Although a fire may be relatively small, its location can pose an immediate risk to people and property and a swift evacuation of all or part of the municipality may be necessary. A forest fire that ignites several kilometres away from a municipality may pose a threat as it grows in size. Initially, smoke from the fire may cause health problems in vulnerable populations forcing their evacuation. The smoke may hamper firefighting operations and traffic where visibility is impacted. Later, as the fire moves toward a community, it may threaten people and property and cause the evacuation of more of the population.

A MNR District Emergency Response Team may assist a municipality with evacuations if requested. The MNR contacts should be set out in the Plan. The evacuation is usually directed by police and municipal fire emergency services.

The evacuation of vulnerable populations may require special resources and the Plan should quantify the vulnerable populations by location and outline what arrangements are in place and what equipment is needed to evacuate these people quickly. For example, an accurate count of the number of people who require accessible modes of transport should be listed. If your municipality already has an Evacuation Plan it may be referenced in this section or the information may be extracted to detail arrangements in this section.

The municipality must anticipate possible evacuations during a forest fire emergency. The Plan must identify a local Evacuation Centre and alternate, and outline what organization will staff the facility. Additionally the Plan should list what neighbouring communities have agreed to accept evacuees. Key contacts including the evacuee capacity by time of year and any conditions on hosting evacuees should be listed. The Plan should contain alternate means of transport for evacuees who need assistance.

The Plan needs to address Evacuation and Shelter-In-Place requirements by:

  • Outlining shelter-in-place and evacuation procedures (e.g. pre-planned evacuation routes or procedures for determining an evacuation route specific to the emergency).
  • Identifying Reception Centres and Evacuation Centres locations and Responsibilities
  • Planning for pets/livestock
  • Considering the hazard’s impact on evacuation routes

Arrangements with Neighbouring Communities

[Detail arrangements (mutual assistance agreements, MOUs, etc.) with neighbouring communities to provide assistance, such as the hosting of evacuees, the availability and use of alternate EOCs and/or Hazmat teams, and human resource sharing. Remember that your outside resources from neighbouring communities maybe already committed as they have been impacted by the same event and/or their response may be delayed.]

[Detail the extent of municipal assistance that would be considered in assisting evacuees (financial, logistics/advice).]

Emergency Information and Communications

Communications can be pre-scripted for potential forest fire emergencies or can be drawn from existing sources. These materials can be held as an annex to the Forest Fire Emergency Plan or may be held in the Emergency Information Plan and referenced here. If the Emergency Information Plan contains information that is specific to forest fires, such as a pre-written news release that only requires the insertion of details on the current situation, it should be noted in the Plan. If no Emergency Information Plan exists, the Emergency Information Officer may be asked to develop pre-written news releases.

The municipality’s Public Education Program may include information on forest fires as part of the annual emergency management program. The material should be included in the forest fire emergency plan as a resource to draw on when developing news releases or public advisories. For example, information on evacuations, warning systems, what to take, pets, securing the home, registration, and return protocols would provide a ready reference. If the information concerning forest fires is on the municipal website, the Plan should provide a link so that residents can inform themselves of preparedness and response measures.

The Plan should outline the news media outlets and other communications channels that may be used to relay news and information concerning a forest fire. It is advisable to establish a relationship with media outlets that may be assisting in the dissemination of emergency information prior to the emergency, especially the local media. Media contacts and alternates for both business and after hours need to be listed to help reach as many people as possible with messaging.

Throughout the forest fire season, MNR Fire Information Officers provide information on the current fire situation and the fire hazard. It is important that the municipal Emergency Information Officer link up with their MNR counterpart to help ensure that the latest information is released to the public in a consistent fashion.

During a slowly building forest fire threat, town hall meetings are excellent forums to brief the public and to answer questions and allay concerns. Town hall meetings are typically scheduled, planned and run by the Emergency Information Officer or an individual appointed by the Municipal Emergency Control Group. The District Emergency Response Team or the MNR Incident Commander can address forest fire issues and municipal leaders can speak on planned responses to the situation. The Plan should include alternate locations where town hall meetings could be held. If a portion or all of the municipality’s population has been evacuated to a host community, arrangements should be made to brief evacuees on a regular basis. These updates help to relieve anxiety and to address misinformation and rumours about the situation.


During a forest fire emergency, the municipal fire department and/or the MNR will supply most of the resources to address the situation. The Plan should indicate where and how additional fire resources can be acquired, for example, a municipality may have Mutual Aid agreements with other communities. Other assistance, such as the Office of the Fire Marshal, can be accessed through the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre. If the municipality has arrangements with the private sector to provide forest fire related resources, the company contacts should be listed in the Plan.

The items below indicate resources that may be required in a forest fire emergency:

  • Firefighting and rescue equipment
  • Ambulances
  • Water tankers
  • Relay pumps
  • Communications equipment
  • Auxiliary lightning
  • Auxiliary power
  • Blankets and food
  • Mobile public address system
  • Emergency feeding facilities
  • Barricades
  • Equipment to repair public utilities
  • Heavy equipment (e.g. backhoes)
  • Transportation vehicles
  • Mobile generators


[Outline financial procedures and obligations, such as:

  • Pre-existing contracts with 24/7 suppliers
  • Extra-ordinary expenditures
  • Expenditure authorities (e.g. who can sign a purchase order?)
  • Human resources considerations (e.g. tracking of over-time, volunteers, collective agreements)
  • Potential cost recovery (e.g. third party liability)
  • Location and procedure for accessing emergency petty cash
  • Donations Management
  • If applicable, contact Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (see ODRAP Guidelines at]

Many of the finance points may already be included in the municipal Emergency Plan. For quick reference, they can be inserted into the Plan.

In addition there may be a number of considerations specific to a Forest Fire emergency:

  1. The MNR may recover costs from the municipality where no previous agreement exists for fires on private land or in accordance with the terms of the Municipal Forest Fire Management Agreement.
  2. As a natural disaster, the municipality may be eligible for ODRAP funds. If the fire is human-caused there may be cost recovery if third-party liability can be established
  3. Mutual assistance agreements with neighbouring municipalities, where they exist, will determine the responsibility for appropriate expenses

Support/Supplemental Plans:

Municipal support plans that may be referenced include an Emergency Information Plan or Evacuation Plan, or Mutual Aid Agreements. In addition, in so far as possible, the municipal Forest Fire Emergency Plan should be coordinated with the MNR’s and/or neighbouring jurisdictions forest fire emergency response plans and procedures.


List prevention actions taken to date and planned in the future for the hazard, including those activities partners may be involved in (such as harvesting wind blow downs). For example, the MNR conducts a FireSmart program to inform homeowners of the risk of forest fires in their area and provide advice on how to reduce the risk:


List mitigation actions taken to date and planned in the future for the hazard such as fire-resistant property maintenance standards and broader land use planning. The MNR conducts fire suppression burns to reduce the amount of ground fuels.


Consider what preparedness initiatives are needed for the Forest Fire Emergency Plan (e.g. training, public education, communications)

Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP)

[Based on recommended practices, consider including COOP as part of the risk management process. Consider locations of municipal services, facilities and infrastructure as they may be affected by a hazard.]


The goal is for the municipality, citizens and businesses to recover from the event. This includes restoring the physical infrastructure where possible or desirable as well as addressing the emotional, social, economic and physical well-being of those involved. Actions to facilitate this may occur during the response such as donations management or notifying the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing that the municipality would like to apply for ODRAAP. Consider the composition of an ODRAP committee and provide training.

Consider mitigation actions during recovery operations to lessen the impact of future reoccurrences of similar events such as fire resistant infrastructure.

Consider establishing a recovery information centre where the impacted individuals can obtain additional information on the recovery process.

Post-Event Activities


[Consider post-event reporting procedures, such as:

  • Quick tactical de-briefing (hot-wash)
  • More detailed operational de-briefing
  • Questionnaire (to volunteers, contractors, media, owners of facilities used, etc.) in order to identify gaps and future considerations for improvement
  • Development of an After Action Report, a financial report, and a report to program committee/council]

[Discuss who generates the above, when they will be created, to whom they will be presented, and how the lessons learned will be incorporated into the hazard plan.]